The reigning Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos will sit out the postseason after being eliminated from playoff contention last week. To pinpoint the moment when everything changed for the Broncos, look to the field goal Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairos Santos miraculously doinked between the uprights in overtime against Denver back in Week 12.
The doink, and the game it won for Kansas City, shaped the entire AFC West race this season.
It’s been a tight battle in the division, with the Oakland Raiders at the top with a 12-3 record and the Chiefs just behind them at 11-4. The Broncos are 8-7 now, and their only win since that ill-fated Sunday Night Football game was a 20-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a whopping three wins to their name this season.
Denver went into its bye in Week 11 with a respectable 7-3 record, but that overtime loss to the Chiefs in Week 12 changed the trajectory of the Broncos’ season.
Going into that game, it really looked like a three-way race to the top of the AFC West. The Raiders were 8-2, and the Chiefs were level with Denver at 7-3. After that game, the Raiders and Chiefs kept winning. The Broncos did not.
That first matchup between the Chiefs and Broncos was hard-fought right up until the very end, and it’s a game the Broncos should have won. Quarterback Trevor Siemian had an abysmal first half, completing just nine of 15 passes for 89 yards, but the Broncos only trailed the Chiefs 9-3 going into the half.
Siemian turned it on in the second half, throwing for 279 yards and three touchdowns. It was an inspired comeback, and the Broncos would have won in regulation if they hadn’t surrendered a touchdown and successful two-point conversion with 12 seconds left.
The Broncos and Chiefs traded field goals in overtime, and then Broncos coach Gary Kubiak took a huge gamble when he opted to let kicker Brandon McManus attempt a 62-yard field goal for the win. Not only did McManus miss, but it put the Chiefs good field position. With the score tied 27-27, Santos got his shot to lock up the victory with a field goal.
He doinked the kick.
It bounced right off the uprights, but it bounced the right way. The field goal was good, and the Chiefs won 30-27.
The successful field goal was so unbelievable that even Chiefs players didn’t believe Santos made it.
If the Broncos had chosen to punt and play for the tie, instead of attempt the 62-yard field goal, they would have stayed level with the Chiefs at 7-3-1. It’s impossible to say how that might have altered the rest of the season for each team, but it would have put the Broncos in a more favorable position than the loss did. Denver was never able to recover.
For the Chiefs, the opposite happened. They’ve only lost one game since the doink-off win, and thumped the Broncos at home last week to completely dash any playoff hopes they had left.
The Chiefs also have more momentum than any other team in the division heading into the final week of the season. With a win over the Chargers, and if the Broncos can beat a Raiders team that is now without quarterback Derek Carr, Kansas City can take the AFC West crown.
And it all goes back to that doinked field goal.